Take precautions to avoid heat-related illness

Posted June 05, 2013, at 9:45 a.m.

Senior Beat

by Carol Higgins Taylor

Eastern Area Agency on Aging

We’ve had some staggering temperatures already this year and undoubtedly more will be on the way. It’s time to be proactive about the heat. Seems every heat wave has people scrambling for fans and air conditioners. If you don’t have a cooling mechanism, think about getting one as soon as you can.

The National Institute on Aging explains the risk for heat-related illness:

• Being dehydrated.

• Age-related changes to the skin such as impaired blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.

• Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.

• High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor.

• Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.

• Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.

• Being substantially overweight or underweight.

• Drinking alcoholic beverages.

Learn more at nia.nih.gov

Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke are not to be taken lightly. Heat exhaustion, which occurs when the body gets too hot, has symptoms such as thirst, confusion, weakness, becoming uncoordinated and nausea.

If you experience any of these symptoms or you are with an older person who is, the following treatments can provide some relief: showering, bathing or sponging off with cool water, drinking fluids such as water and juice, and lying down to rest, preferably in a cool place. If you are outside in the sun, find shelter immediately.

While heat exhaustion can be addressed with the above steps, heat stroke is another story. It can be deadly so immediate medical attention is crucial. The list of possible symptoms includes a body temperature of 104 degrees, headache, faintness, staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, lack of sweating and vomiting.

If you or someone else is exhibiting any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

The key is to prevent and reduce the risks that extreme heat can cause for seniors. It’s important to talk to primary care providers about your individual risk factors, which might include some medications you may take.

As we age, our bodies’ ability to release heat, by sweating, is blunted making it particularly dangerous for seniors to stay in very warm environments for long periods of time.

To beat the heat, try opening windows at night on opposite sides of the building to create cross ventilation if possible. During the day, windows, blinds and curtains should be kept closed.

If you have a fan and a squirt bottle, you’ve got a good way to stay cool. Sit in front of the fan and lightly mist your legs and arms. As the water evaporates, your skin will cool down. And be careful of overdressing. Older people may not feel the heat accurately and consequently put themselves at risk by wearing too much or inappropriate clothing. Lightweight, light-colored, loose fitting garments made of natural fibers are best.

While drinking more liquids is vital to avoiding hyperthermia, check with your healthcare provider before changing your normal routine, especially if you have had limits put on your fluid intake or have been prescribed water pills.

Summer is short lived in Maine so enjoy it but be cautious. And remember if it is warm and humid, leave your dog at home. A car can turn deadly in just a few minutes, even with the windows down.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812 or visit EAAA.org.

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